The role might not be glamorous but few are more important to a production
Accountants may not be the glamorous end of high-end TV, but they are some of the most in-demand talent in the whole of the industry right now.
ScreenSkills, the industry-led skills body for the UK’s screen industries, is playing a central role in trying to meet that demand as part of its broader mission of addressing skills needs across the whole of the UK.
The Accounts Industry Transfer Programme is one example of an intervention funded by the High-end TV Skills Fund. At the end of last year, a group of 22 accountants working in and around Bristol, Manchester and Leeds were trained to move into the industry, with more than half already working on productions such as Mammoth Screen’s The Tower and animated feature The Canterville Ghost.
Liverpool-based Hamish Stewart is one of the chartered accountants who transferred into screen after completing the programme and has been working on the Sky series The Rising.
He has not found the accountancy part of his new job that challenging, but the work environment is different. “I understand all accountancy concepts, but everything is expressed in a different way in this industry,” he says.
“Weekly and monthly reporting cycles are much more hectic and the hours are punishing, but the people are lovely and it’s clear that no two film or TV projects will be the same.”
A string of his fellow transferers are still working on or have just finished their first placements in the industry on productions from Newport in Wales to Leeds, including Doctor Who, The Power and The Long Call.
Yet the transfer programme is only one way ScreenSkills is endeavouring to meet the accounts demand with a range of ways of attracting people in and giving them the skills to do the job in screen.
For example, the fund also supports the Production Guild’s Assistant Production Account Fast Track Scheme (APATS), while chartered accountant Tim Powell joined the industry with a placement on Brexit: The Uncivil War, supported by ScreenSkills’ HETV Make a Move programme.
The placement helped him understand how accountancy in film and TV differs from other industries. “You can be the best accountant in the world, but without a working knowledge of the industry and what each member of the crew does, you can’t really do your job properly,” he says.
He has since worked on productions including Trigonometry and The Duke.
The High-end TV Skills Fund also recruited a cohort of accounts trainees for its Trainee Finder programme for the first time this year. It is now helping 15 trainees find paid placements on high-end productions. Skills Fund contributors are eligible to access funding to hire the trainees on their shoots.
Experienced production accountant Theresa McKay-Roberts was involved in selecting the cohort. “I love training people and seeing them enjoy the environment TV can be, but I don’t have time to find and select candidates,” she says. “Having ScreenSkills do that makes life so much easier for us in production.”
Gabriela Griffiths had spent six months working in the accounts department of Steph’s Packed Lunch for Channel 4 before joining Trainee Finder, where she has been placed on The Confessions of Franny Langton in Leeds, where she is based. “I’m hoping to learn more about the wider scale operations of high-end TV production and how it affects my work in accounts,’’ she says.
The High-end TV Skills Fund intends to support another transfer programme this year, partnering with the ScreenSkills Film Skills Fund, for 40 people including 24 people funded placements.
Kaye Elliott, ScreenSkills director of High-end TV, says: “The scale of production means a single large-scale production can hoover up nearly all the new accounts recruits as soon as they are trained so this is a massive job. But we are working hard to tackle it.”
For a more information on skills and training, go to www.screenskills.com